Washington Prowler

Ready, Ames, Fire

Mitt looks to the next Straw Poll. Huckabee and FairTax busing. Plus: Blue Dogs bark and bite.

By 8.13.07

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NOT THE LAST STRAW
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney spent an estimated $5 million in the lead up to the Ames straw poll, outbidding other Republican campaigns for everything from buses to catering for the crowd.

With no other top tier candidate remotely playing in the state GOP party fundraiser, it was expected -- and his campaign had been encouraging for months -- an expectation of a win by more than 15 percent. At one point in early May, Romney advisers were predicting the possibility of a majority (better than 50%) win if other top tier candidates chose not to play in the straw poll.

But over the past month Romney and his advisers began lowering the bar of expectations, and did a good job, ensuring this his 31.5% of the votes and 13% margin of victory over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was just good enough.

Romney sources now indicate that he set his sights on the end-of-August Texas straw poll, one that many thought he would not play in. "The dynamic in the race has changed a bit," says one Romney adviser. "We're looking to have a victory somewhere beyond the Midwest, to show we can win down south. Texas is the one we're looking at."

The Texas straw poll, to be held in Dallas the last week of August, is getting little attention in the media. But now that Ames is over, it may garner more attention, particularly if Romney makes a late play to make it a bigger event than previously expected.

BUSING ALONG
Mike Huckabee is getting credit for an excellent showing in the Ames straw poll, and people are trying to figure out how he got the supporters to where they needed to be. One answer lies in the buses that were rented to bring members of the Americans for Fair Taxation organization to their FairTax rally at Ames.

While the Huckabee campaign bought a number of tickets to the straw poll for its supporters, it didn't arrange for transportation for all of their supporters. Instead, the campaign in Iowa was encouraging people to catch rides on the FairTax buses.

Word is the Federal Election Commission will be looking into the situation in the coming days. Already, the FEC has been investigating the role a homeschooling 501c3 organization played in political activity on behalf of the Huckabee campaign. The FairTax organization, which has been asking all Republican candidates to support its proposal of a national retail sales tax, has not endorsed a candidate, though Huckabee has said he supports the plan.

"We have no idea if the Huckabee people were piggybacking on our buses," says a FairTax organizer in Ames. "We weren't checking on who was riding on the buses beyond making sure they were coming to our rally at the event. If they voted for Huckabee, then more power to them."

BLUE DOG MUSCLE
The Blue Dog Democrats -- those moderate to conservative House members who have been making Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's life a bit more difficult than expected -- are on a roll. Recent FEC filings indicate that the group's leadership PAC has raised almost a million dollars in the first six months of 2007, more than the group raised in the previous 16 months combined. Almost all of the funds -- about $830,000 -- came from lobbying groups and corporate PACs, a sign that corporations and others have identified the Blue Dogs as a critical voting block in the House.

Credit for the increased influence of the group goes to Tennessee Democrat Rep. John Tanner, who chairs the organization, and has mobilized his group -- with its increased membership from the last election cycle -- all over town. "There isn't a major event where you don't see Blue Dog members there," says a lobbyist for a U.S. automotive manufacturer. "They come to our policy meetings, they come to our conferences, they care about our issues because many of them have constituents who are our employees or prospective employees. They are much more visible than they were a year ago."

And more important to the process. For any given important vote, Tanner can bring the majority totals up by 25 to 35 votes, something Pelosi often needs for the tough votes, particularly on appropriations.

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